Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Coulson departure was Dambuster 1; News’ admission of liability could be Dambuster 2

Posted on 9 April 2011 | 10:04am

It never ceases to amaze me how media organisations, so sharp and skilful in covering other people’s crises, are often so poor at handling their own.

I have been saying here since well before the last election that the only way for News International to deal with the phone-hacking scandal is to get everything out there and deal with the fall-out, whatever the cost both financially and in terms of difficulty to individuals. It is going to cost them more, financially, reputationally and in terms of the fate of individuals, precisely because the truth has been dragged kicking and screaming, and the stench has grown.

And if the intention of yesterday’s statement of regret and admitted partial liability was to bring some kind of closure, in part because of the track record on this, it won’t work.

Indeed, just as Andy Coulson’s ‘line-drawing’ resignation from Downing St in fact acted as something of a dambuster, not least in relation to the nature of the re-opened police inquiry, there is every chance that this will too.

It has brought into even sharper relief some of the difficult questions which, with the help of other newspapers’ reluctance to go too deep for their own self-serving reasons, News had been hoping would go away.

Yesterday’s statement is being presented as a late and reluctant admission of guilt. But the substantial out of court settlements with, among others, PFA boss Gordon Taylor, were also admissions of guilt. There is no way these six figure sums were paid out without agreement from the top, certainly James and possibly Rupert Murdoch, and no way they would have agreed to them unless they had no choice.

There is also the question now of whether Parliamentary committees have been misled not just by News but by Yates of the Yard. Culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale has told me he intends to re-open his inquiry into this when the police probe is over. And of course Andy Coulson has repeated in court his oft-stated ignorance of what went on in court, something which has been openly challenged by a former employee Paul McMullan, who insists phone-hacking was taking place on an industrial basis and with everyone’s knowledge.

As for Yates of the Yard, from what I know of the two men I think he has erred in picking something of a war of words with the DPP Keir Starmer. In any event, Yates’ investigation (sic) is an utter humiliation for him and the Met. All those Sunday paper profiles tipping him as a future Commissioner now look comical, and all of a piece with an overcosy relationship between press and police.

It is clear that the second investigation is being pursued with proper vigour. And herein lies News International’s real problem. They may think they can have some control over the way the compensation fund works – though it will only take one person offered a deal to refuse it to keep the thing going through the courts. But that only deals with civil cases. The police investigation is about criminal activity, and recent arrests, and talk of more to come, mean this is far from over. The deeper that probe goes, the less control News have, the more unpredictable it becomes. There is also the case of Jonathan Rees, the private detective whose activities continue to be investigated.

On the question of the News takeover of BSkyB, John Prescott is leading the charge in saying that criminal activity having been admitted, it should not be allowed, full stop. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will hide behind ‘quasi judicial’ and ‘only interested in questions of plurality’. But there comes a point where that could do real political damage to David Cameron. And as several of his colleagues have already learned, when Cameron senses damage to himself, he is not exactly backward in moving forward against the damager.

One final point – of course the other papers had to cover such a major announcement as yesterday. But one or two apart, they are not exactly pursuing the story with vigour. I think we all know why, and at some point the net could well widen to other papers and other criminal activities, which go well beyond phone-hacking.

  • Storm in a teacup. And as for Murdoch taking over the world—let’s face it, all political parties would gladly help.

  • Patrick Graham

    Are we to see a drawing up of battle stations on fence sides by the print media giants?
    The Guardian group may feel it can take on Murdoch corp, but the insider bonds are still strong, (as shown at press awards and with soft pedalling press complaints groupings)
    and hacks are very scared of damaging their own career prospects thanks to not being entirely clean themselves (present company excluded of course) .

  • Olli Issakainen

    Full control of BSkyB will open possibilites for cross-selling. Press and TV concentration in UK would be vast.
    Murdoch can integrate his print and TV operations. In ten years time no one can match the power of News Corp.
    The impact on creative industries will be big. News Corp is not interested in investing much in Britain.
    By 2015 BSkyB will account for half of UK TV revenues. This is monopoly capitalism.
    News Corp will become Britain´s biggest media company with fairly modest regulatory price. Newly “independent” Sky News Ltd is a joke. News Corp will buy it back soon.
    BSkyB is a “licence to print money”.
    And Rupert Murdoch is an unofficial member of the British Cabinet.
    Come 2015, News Corp´s turnover could be £9bn – double of that of BBC!
    Rupert Murdoch has used the Sun to play Labour against the Tories. It is not in Labour´s interest to give so much power to News Corp.
    And phone-hacking, of course, is closely linked to the BSkyB deal. It is a question of corporate governance.

    Ps. I have been three days on the road campaigning as we have general election here in Finland. So far I have delivered 3,600 brochures. I will be 50 in May and hope to visit London then. Hopefully Burnley will make the play-offs so I could see the Clarets in action. I noticed today that you will be involved with our football university.

  • Foo

    Surely – surely – this behaviour was endemic at least among redtops and almost certainly amongst several “quality” titles too. There should be a full police investigation into all of this. No fan of Murdoch but NOTW just the ones who were caught – seems likely they were all at it and given we’re talking about criminal offences the police should be sitting up and taking notice, properly (i.e. not like last time around). Every major national title should be looked at.

  • Richard

    What did your Government know about these activities when you were in power?

  • Scooke7

    I like the way the phrase “phone-hacking” is being misused even by AC. Let’s get this right. No phone conversation were “hacked” or listened to by the NOTW journalists. What they did was listen to the voice mail of a few prominent people. It’s more bad manners than anything else to do this. But, according to some archaic law on some parchment paper somewhere, it’s a crime too. BIG DEAL !!!
    I’m quite sure that in most other countries such a case would never come up in a court of law for a couple of reasons:
    1. The onus of protecting one’s voicemail access is on the subscriber. We all look after our bank a/c numbers & cash machine PIN and wouldn’t dream of revealing it to others. So, why would we not protect our voice mail access?
    2. Governments in other countries make very concerted efforts to ensure that their phones are secure in a way that normal phones are not. Obama had to give up his own Blackberry for a CIA/FBI approved one. Why doesn’t the UK govt. have anything like this? Labour had 13 years to do something about this and they did diddly squat and now are the loudest moaners about the biggest non-issue since MPs’ expenses.
    And now suddenly everyone’s going crazy about the power of News International & BskyB etc. Since Labour are so proud of the 250k people march a few weeks ago, why don’t they organise a BSkyB boycott? If you can persuade say, 1 million people, to give their BSkyB subscription, that would hit Murdoch in a serious way. Will you lead the way AC? And no, I don’t have and never had a BSkyB subscription.

  • Jacquie R

    Just don’t get it. Why is John Prescott “leading the charge” in calling for the BSkyB deal to be blocked, while Ivan Lewis and the rest of the Labour front bench continue to ignore the link with phone hacking? Lewis’s anodyne statement yesterday, welcoming News International’s belated apology, while again failing to mention BSkyB, was an embarrassment.

    I can sympathise with fear of Murdoch and can understand why politicians feel the need to pander to him. But hiding behind John Prescott, if that is what they’re doing, is pretty spineless. It’s also out of step with sound judgement and public opininion. And I say this as a member of the Labour Party who voted for Ed Miliband to be leader.

    As for Jeremy Hunt being “only interested in questions of plurality”, that is the primary reason why the deal should not go ahead, but one which he refuses to recognise. The unfitness of News Corporation is therefore the weapon most likely to succeed.

    Incidentally, did anyone notice Simon Hughes conceding on Newsnight last night that the BSkyB deal should be blocked? Had to be dragged out of him, but at least he said it!

  • Keane Sinead

    this coming from the man of the dodgy dossier which sent young working class men and women to there death nobody cares about celebs getting hacked (ordinary everyday people) the only reason labour cares so much is that news international switched to the toriesthat are far more important things going on in the world than bloody hacking of so called celebs the piety of campbell is making me want to vomit you really need to get a long mirrior and look at yourself in it

  • Phillip

    interview BBC Phone Hacking.. Bravo. Anymore like that. and you will have full suport of Progressives in this country

  • Quinney

    I remeber with the “cash for questons” investigation, suspects being arrested in their pyjamas as Yates pursued this case with vigour. Why didn’t he do the same for the original hacking case?

  • Scooke7

    Well said. You know the good thing about blogs like this is that it is on record how AC feels about the Murdoch press now. If, by the time of the next election, the Murdoch press switch to backing Labour, what will Labour and AC say? Based on these blogs, both Labour and AC should reject any and all future support by the Murdoch press forever. I just hope these blogs don’t mysteriously disappear !

  • Robert

    So with potentially thousands of people who have had their phones hacked NI have set aside £20m?

    1000 into £20m is £20k – yes?

    And NI have already made £1m compensation payments to some victims of phone hacking? How many are going to settle for a piddling 20 grand?

    NI’s provision for compensation should have been nearer £1bn or maybe £2bn or £3bn.

  • Rickinork

    There is one other slow burner here. Rebekah Brooks admitted that she had paid the police for information. It’s long been apparent that there is a relationship between individual officers and the press where information is handed over for cash; this is the first time that it has been openly stated; indeed televised. Andy Coulson did a damage limitation but too late. It seems to me that this bit of criminality alone, if tested in court, is enough to deny Murdoch his heart’s desire of full control of BSKYB as one of his most senior managers has admitted criminal behaviour. I would also like to see the boy James extradited to face charges too.

    On the wider issue, I imagine there are some uncomfortable folk in Harmondsworth Towers too.

  • Ehtch

    Rosebud, Xanadu and Kane come to mind here, in a way.